The April 1996 Mountain Lines celebrates the McDowell Sonoran Conservancy Stewards’ first foray into trail construction and maintenance. 

“In February and March 1996 nearly 90 McDowell Sonoran Conservancy volunteers worked hard during the weekends to build the trail for the Cactus Cup Mountain Bike Race. This five-mile loop trail which links WestWorld with the McDowell Sonoran Preserve along a wide wash corridor, soon to be dedicated to the City of Scottsdale by McDowell Mountain Ranch.

Careful design and construction of this multi-use trail provided a competitive challenge for the racers in addition to preserving native plants and offering a pleasant experience for year-round users including hikers, equestrians and mountain bikers.”

Thus, the program we now call Construction and Maintenance (C&M) began. The program’s early work included partnering with the City of Scottsdale to build trails in the Preserve. This was coordinated by Liz Hildenbrand, the City of Scottsdale Trail Coordinator.  The Conservancy Stewards willingly put in many hours of hard labor to ensure the trails were well constructed and sensitive to the environment. Providing ample recreational opportunities was essential to demonstrate to people why the preservation of the land was so important.  Additionally, the natural landscape and native plants are also essential to protect the local biodiversity. The key to this work was blending the desire for recreation into preservation to ensure the McDowell Sonoran Preserve will be enjoyed for many generations to come. 

Over the years, the role of the C&M program has evolved from trail construction into preventative and emergency maintenance. The passage of the 2004 citizen initiative created a source of tax dollars that could be used by the City of Scottsdale for construction of trails and trailheads in addition to land acquisition. This change allowed the City to hire professional trail contractors with mechanized equipment to speed up the process of building the trail network throughout the Preserve. At the same time, the expansion of that network of trails created an ongoing need for routine maintenance to keep the trails in the excellent condition that Preserve users have come to expect. The variety of trail conditions, ranging from the rocky, steep slopes of the McDowells to the rolling granite terrain in the northern areas of the Preserve, make this task even more challenging.

In addition to trail maintenance, the C&M program now partners with the City to maintain the Preserve in various other ways. After wind and rain events, it is not unusual for large saguaro cacti to fall over the trail, making them impassable for users. C&M crews are instrumental in their removal.  C&M works closely with the City and the Conservancy’s Parsons Field Institute staff to remove non-native plants from the Preserve based on best management practices informed by scientific experiments. 

Unfortunately, trash collects along the roads that border the Preserve and boundary fences get cut, creating additional work for the team. Some of these projects allow students, corporate employees and other members of the public to participate, providing them with a team building learning experience in the outdoors that exposes them to the Conservancy and the Preserve.

Although the C&M program has adapted over the years since its origins in the 1996 trail building experience, it continues to play an important role in making the Preserve a wonderful asset for all users and a model of ecological sustainability. We thank the former and current C&M stewards who ensure the 225 miles of trails remain in great condition for all users.